Five community activists came together from across England in September 2021 to embark on the Community Researchers Project with the Social Rights Alliance. The group’s diversity, in terms of individual experiences and community stories, was clear. But the first common thread that stood out to us all was the challenges to mental health all had experienced as Human Rights Defenders. In our opening session, through sharing our origins, influences and what matters to us most, everyone spoke to the value of wellbeing and times that they had struggled.
In our second session we started to get a bit geeky, exploring the International Covenant of Economic Social and Cultural Rights and its Articles. We found that mental health is given equal importance to physical health in Article 12. Two of the Community Researchers, Hinda from Intisaar and Martin from Minds for Men Wellbeing for Women will be looking at how they can use this new found knowledge to change the mental health stories of their communities in Brent and Hartlepool in the coming months.
But in the meantime the Social Rights Alliance is trying to work in ways that are understanding and supportive of activists mental health and well-being:
We are working to build a safe space (over Zoom) in which we can all work together, exploring our work openly and critically in the group setting. We are using simple tools for check-ins in each session that allow people to share their experiences in creative, fun and safe ways. Over Zoom, taking the time for that human connection is even more vital.
We have built a link with Counselling for Social Change, a small charity based in Cornwall, that offer low cost counselling to activists. If required, participants of the Community Researchers Project will be able to access three online sessions, at no cost and with their confidentiality preserved.
We know that working over Zoom, often from home, can bring additional strains and also fails to create to the shared experiences of usual group work processes. To help to offset this a wellbeing parcel was sent to each participant packed with goodies including notebook, post-its and pen for the work ahead, tea bags, hot chocolate and snacks to fill our tea breaks, a foot mask and tea light to aid relaxation when weary, and finally a seed paper to plant as watch grow as we all journey together.
All of these are small steps and actions to support our group’s wellbeing – but by making these few small gestures we hope that we are demonstrating that self-care in and of itself is a radical act that we prioritise.
We will be continually working to improve and develop how we support wellbeing for all involved in the Social Rights Alliance – any ideas, please send them our way!